Biography of Russian Composer Joseph Schillinger Part 2

About the Russian composer Joseph Schillinger, history and biography of the man who coupled mathematics and music to great effect.


Joseph Schillinger (1895-1943)

Schillinger was born in Kharkov, Russia, in 1895 and studied composition and conducting at the St. Petersburg Imperial Conservatory. He graduated in 1918, and in the early 1920s served as conductor of the Ukraine Symphony Orchestra. He then became composer for the State Academic Theater of Drama in Leningrad and later dean of the State Academy of Music. His "Symphonic Rhapsody," commissioned by the Soviet government to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Revolution, and his "March of the Orient," written in 1921, both received their American premiere by the Cleveland Orchestra in 1929, Leopold Stokowski conducting. Schillinger emigrated to the U.S. the following year.

In the 1930s he taught music, fine arts, and, inevitably, mathematics in New York, at such institutions as the New School for social Research and Columbia Teachers College. During these years he devoted himself to analyzing the mathematical and purely scientific bases not only of music but also of the graphic arts, sculpture, cinema, speech, and literature. He published his findings in The Principles of Automatic Composition Applied to Sound, Light and Action. (So skilled was he as a designer of colorful geometric patterns that a textile firm offered him a job as a designer.)

Schillinger died in 1943, and two years later two of his collaborators, Lyle Dowling and Arnold Shaw, brought out a massive two-volume embodiment of the composer's theories, Schillinger's System of Musical Composition: A Scientific Technique of Composing Music.

Little is known about Schillinger the man. He enjoyed hiking and photography, but his interest in music and art as pure science was his central preoccupation. An impeccable dresser, he chose his clothes each day with the same attention to patterns and harmony that he used in composing music.

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